Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Brjánssaga

Reconstructing the hypothetical Brjánssaga is based on the work of Donnchadh Ó Corrain as listed in the bibliography. It uses the translation of George W. Dasant as it is in the public domain.

The idea of the saga being a "missing episode" in the corpus of viking sagas is contentious to say the least and Donnchadh Ó Corrain probably makes the best case for its existence, against this interpretation the evidence is very ambiguous


Brjánssaga or Brjánsorrostu


Earl Sigurð invited to his feast at Yule Earl Gilla, his brother-in-law, out of the Suðureyjar; he had to wife Forbflaith, Earl Sigurð's sister; and then, too, came to see Earl Sigurð the king from Ireland whose name was Sigtryggr. He was a son of Ólafr Cuarán, but his mother's name was Gormflaith; she was the most beautiful of all women, and best gifted in everything that was not in her own power, but it was the talk of men that she did all things evil over which she had any power. Brian was the name of the king who first had her as a wife, but they were then divorced. He was the best-natured of all kings. He had his seat in Cenn Cora, in Ireland; his foster-brother's name was Úlf hræða, the greatest champion and warrior; Brian's foster-child's name was Terþialfad. He was the son of King Kylfi, who had many wars with King Brian, and fled away out of the land before him, and became a hermit; but when King Brian went south on a pilgrimage he met King Kylfi, and then they were reconciled, and King Brian took his son Terþialfad to him, and loved him more than his own sons. He was fully grown when these things happened, and was the bravest of all men. Dungað was the name of the first of King Brian's sons; the second was Margað; the third, Taðk, whom we call Tann, he was the youngest of them; but the elder sons of King Brian were fully grown, and the quickest of men. Gormflaith was not the mother of King Brian's children, and so angry was she with King Brian after their parting, that she would gladly have had him dead. King Brian forgave all his outlaws the same fault three times, but if they re-offended, then he let them be judged by the law; and from this one may mark what a king he must have been. Gormflaith encouraged her son Sigtryggr very much to kill King Brian, and she now sent him to Earl Sigurð to beg for help. King Sigtryggr came before Yule to Orkneyjum, and there, too, came Earl Gilla, as was written before.


Then King Sigtryggr stirred in his business with Earl Sigurð, and asked him to go to the war with him against King Brian. The earl was stubborn for a while, but in the end he let the king have his way, but said he must have his mother's hand for his help, and be king in Ireland, if they killed Brian. But all his men begged Earl Sigurð not to enter into the war, but it was no good. So they parted on the understanding that Earl Sigurð gave his word to go; but King Sigtryggr promised him his mother and the kingdom. It was so settled that Earl Sigurð was to come with all his army to Dyflinn by Palm Sunday. Then King Sigtryggr travelled south to Ireland, and told his mother Gormflaith that the earl had agreed to come, and also what he had pledged himself to grant him. She showed herself well pleased at that, but said they must gather greater force still. Sigtryggr asked where this was to be looked for? She said there were two Vikings lying off the west of Mön; and that they had thirty ships, and, she went on, "They are men of such strength that nothing can withstand them. One's name is Óspak, and the other's Bróðir. You shall travel to find them, and spare nothing to get them into your quarrel, whatever price they ask." Now King Sigtryggr travelled and sought the Vikings, and found them lying outside off Mön; King Sigtryggr brought forward his proposition at once, but Bróðir refrained from helping him until King Sigtryggr promised him the kingdom and his mother, and they were to keep this such a secret that Earl Sigurð should know nothing about it; Bróðir too was to come to Dyflinn on Palm Sunday. So King Sigtryggr travelled home to his mother, and told her how things stood. After that the brothers, Óspak and Bróðir, talked together, and then Bróðir told Óspak all that he and Sigtryggr had spoken of, and asked him to go to battle with him against King Brian, and said he relied much on his going. But Óspak said he would not fight against so good a king. Then they were both angry, and seperated their band at once. Óspak had ten ships and Bróðir twenty. Óspak was a heathen, and the wisest of all men. He laid his ships inside in a sound, but Bróðir lay outside him. Bróðir had been a Christian and a mass-deacon by consecration, but he had thrown off his faith and become God's enemy, and now worshipped heathen gods, and he had much skill in sorcery. He had a coat of mail on which no steel would pierce. He was both tall and strong, and had such long locks that he tucked them under his belt. His hair was black.


It happened one night that a great noise passed over Bróðir and his men, so that they all woke, and sprang up and put on their clothes. Along with that came a shower of boiling blood. Then they covered themselves with their shields, but for all that many were scalded. This wonder lasted until day, and a man had died on board every ship. Then they slept during the day, but the second night there was again a noise, and again they all sprang up. Then swords leapt out of their sheaths, and axes and spears flew about in the air and fought. The weapons pressed them so hard that they had to shield themselves, but still many were wounded, and again a man died out of every ship. This wonder lasted until day. Then they slept again the day after. But the third night there was a noise of the same kind, and then ravens flew at them, and it seemed to them as though their beaks and claws were of iron. The ravens pressed them so hard that they had to keep them off with their swords, and covered themselves with their shields, and so this went on again until day, and then another man had died in every ship. Then they went to sleep first of all, but when Bróðir woke up, he drew his breath painfully, and ordered them to put off the boat. "As," he said, "I will go to see Óspak." Then he got into the boat and some men with him, but when he found Óspak he told him of the wonders that had befallen them, and ordered him to say what he thought they meant. Óspak would not tell him before he promised him peace, and Bróðir promised him peace, but Óspak still refrained from telling him until night fell. Then Óspak spoke and said, "When blood rained on you, this meant that you shall you shed many men's blood, both of your own and others. But when you heard a great noise, then you must have been shown the crack of doom, and you shall all die speedily. But when weapons fought against you, that must anticipate a battle; but when ravens pressed you, that marks the gods which you put faith in, and who will drag you all down to the pains of hell." Then Bróðir was so angry that he could not say a word, but he went at once to his men, and made them lay his ships in a line across the sound, and moor them by bearing their cables on shore at either end of the line, and meant to kill them all next morning. Óspak saw all their plan, and then he vowed to take the true faith, and to go to King Brian, and follow him till his death. Then he took that advice to lay his ships in a line, and punt them along the shore with poles, and cut the cables of Bróðir's ships. Then the ships of Bróðir's men began to fall on top of one another when they were all fast asleep; and so Óspak and his men got out of the firth, and went west to Ireland, and came to Ceann Cora. Then Óspak told King Brian all that he had learnt, and took baptism, and gave himself over into the king's hand. After that King Brian made them gather strenght over all his realm, and the whole army was to come to Dyflinn in the week before Palm Sunday.


Earl Sigurð Hlöðvisson accompanied him from Orkneyjum, and Flosi offered to go with him. The earl would not have that, since he had his pilgrimage to fulfil. Flosi offered fifteen men of his band to go on the voyage, and the earl accepted them, but Flosi traveled with Earl Gilla to the Suðureyjar. Þorsteinn Síðu-Hallsson went along with Earl Sigurð, and Hrafn hinn rauði, and Erling of Straumey. He would not allow Hárek to go, but said he would be sure to be the first to tell him the news of his voyage. The earl came with all his host on Palm Sunday to Dyflinn, and there too came Bróðir with all his army. Bróðir questioned by sorcery how the fight would go, but the answer ran this way, that if the fight were on Good-Friday King Brian would fall but win the day; but if they fought before, then all who were against him would fall. Then Bróðir said that they must not fight before the Friday. On the fifth day of the week a man rode up to Gormflaith and her company on an apple-grey horse, and in his hand he held a halberd; he talked with them for a while. This occured to Bróðir and Gormflaith. King Brian came with all his army to the fort, and on the Friday the army traveled out of the fort, and both armies were drawn up in array. Bróðir was on one wing of the battle, with King Sigtryggr on the other. Earl Sigurð was in the middle. Now it must be said of King Brian that he would not fight on the fast-day, and so a defence was thrown round him, and his army was drawn up in array in front of it. Úlf hræða was on that wing of the battle against which Bróðir stood; but on the other wing, where Sigtryggr stood against them, were Óspak and his sons. But in middle was Terþialfad, and the banners in front of him. Now the wings attacked each other, and there was a very hard fight. Bróðir went through the army of the enemy, and killed all of the greatest men that stood there, but no steel would pierce his mail. Úlf hræða turned then to meet him, and thrust at him three times so hard that Bróðir fell before him at each thrust, and was nearly not able to get on his feet again; but as soon as ever he found his feet, he fled away into the wood at once. Earl Sigurð had a hard battle against Terþialfad, and Terþialfad attacked so fast that he defeated all who were in the front rank, and he broke the array of Earl Sigurð right up to his banner, and slew the banner-bearer. Then he got another man to bear the banner, and there was again a hard fight. Terþialfad killed this man at once, and so on one after the other all who stood near him. Then Earl Sigurð called on Þorsteinn Síðu-Hallsson to carry the banner, and Þorsteinn was just about to lift the banner, but then Ámundi hvíti said, "Don't bear the banner! For all they who bear it get their death." "Hrafn hinn rauði!" called out Earl Sigurð, "carry the banner." "Carry your own burden yourself," answered Hrafn. Then the earl said, "`It is fittest that the beggar should bear the bag;'" and with that he took the banner from the staff and put it under his cloak. A little after Ámundi hvíti was slain, and then the earl was impaled with a spear. Óspak had gone through all the battle on his wing, he had been sore wounded, and lost both his sons before King Sigtryggr fled before him. Then the army broke into a retreat Þorsteinn Síðu-Hallsson stood still while all the others fled, and tied his shoe-string. Then Terþialfad asked why he ran not as the others. "Because," said Þorsteinn, "I can't get home to-night, since I am at home in Íslandi." Terþialfad gave him peace. Hrafn hinn rauði was chased out into a certain river; he thought he saw there the pains of hell down below him, and he thought the devils wanted to drag him to them. Then Hrafn said, "You dog, Apostle Peter! has run twice to Rome, and he would run the third time if you gave him leave." Then the devils let him loose, and Hrafn got across the river. Now Bróðir saw that King Brian's men were chasing the deserters, and that there were few men by the defence. Then he rushed out of the wood, and broke through the defence, and attacked the king. The lad Taðk threw his arm in the way, and the stroke took it off and the king's head too, but the king's blood landed on the lad's stump, and the stump was healed by it on the spot. Then Bróðir called out with a loud voice, "Now let man tell man that Bróðir felled Brian." Then men ran after those who were chasing the deserters, and they were told that King Brian had fallen, and then they turned back straightway, both Úlf hræða and Terþialfad. Then they threw a ring round Bróðir and his men, and threw branches of trees upon them, and so Bróðir was taken alive. Úlf hræða cut open his belly, and led him round and round the trunk of a tree, and wound all his entrails out of him, and he did not die before they were all drawn out of him. All Bróðir's men were killed. After that they took King Brian's body and laid it out. The king's head had grown onto to the torso. Fifteen men of the burners fell in Brian's battle, and there, too, fell Halldór son Guðmundar hins ríka, and Erling of Straumey. On Good-Friday an event happened in Kataness when a man whose name was Dörruð went out. He saw folk riding twelve together to a bower, and there they were all lost to his sight. He went to that bower and looked in through a window slit that was in it, and saw that there were women inside, and they had set up a loom. Men's heads were the weights, but men's entrails were the warp and yarn, a sword was the shuttle, and the reels were arrows. They sang these songs, and he learnt them by heart:


"See! warp is stretched
For warriors' fall,
Lo! weft in loom
'Tis wet with blood;
Now fight foreboding,
'Neath friends' swift fingers,
Our grey woof waxeth
With war's alarms,
Our warp bloodred,
Our weft corseblue.

"This woof is y-woven
With entrails of men,
This warp is hardweighted
With heads of the slain,
Spears blood-besprinkled
For spindles we use,
Our loom ironbound,
And arrows our reels;
With swords for our shuttles
This war-woof we work;
So weave we, weird sisters,
Our warwinning woof.

"Now Warwinner walketh
To weave in her turn,
Now Swordswinger steppeth,
Now Swiftstroke, now Storm;
When they speed the shuttle
How spearheads shall flash!
Shields crash, and helmgnawer (3)
On harness bite hard!

"Wind we, wind swiftly
Our warwinning woof
Woof erst for king youthful
Foredoomed as his own,
Forth now we will ride,
Then through the ranks rushing
Be busy where friends
Blows blithe give and take.

"Wind we, wind swiftly
Our warwinning woof,
After that let us steadfastly
Stand by the brave king;
Then men shall mark mournful
Their shields red with gore,
How Swordstroke and Spearthrust
Stood stout by the prince.

"Wind we, wind swiftly
Our warwinning woof.
When sword-bearing rovers
To banners rush on,
Mind, maidens, we spare not
One life in the fray!
We corse-choosing sisters
Have charge of the slain.

"Now new-coming nations
That island shall rule,
Who on outlying headlands
Abode ere the fight;
I say that King mighty
To death now is done,
Now low before spearpoint
That Earl bows his head.

"Soon over all Ersemen
Sharp sorrow shall fall,
That woe to those warriors
Shall wane nevermore;
Our woof now is woven.
Now battlefield waste,
O'er land and o'er water
War tidings shall leap.

"Now surely 'tis gruesome
To gaze all around.
When bloodred through heaven
Drives cloudrack o'er head;
Air soon shall be deep hued
With dying men's blood
When this our spaedom
Comes speedy to pass.

"So cheerily chant we
Charms for the young king,
Come maidens lift loudly
His warwinning lay;
Let him who now listens
Learn well with his ears
And gladden brave swordsmen
With bursts of war's song.

"Now mount we our horses,
Now bare we our brands,
Now haste we hard, maidens,
Hence far, far, away."

And then they tore the woven cloth from the loom and ripped it to pieces, each keeping the shred she held in her hands. Now Dörruð went away from the window, and home; The women mounted their horses and rode away, six to the south and six to the north. A similar event occured to Brand Gneistason in Færeyjum. At Svínafelli, in Íslandi, blood came on the priest's stole on Good-Friday, so that he had to take it off. At Þvottá the priest thought he saw on Good-Friday a long deep of the sea hard by the altar, and there he saw many awful sights, and it was long before he could sing the prayers. This event happened in Orkneyjum, that Hárek thought he saw Earl Sigurð, and some men with him. Then Hárek took his horse and rode to meet the earl. Men saw that they met and rode under a brae, but they were never seen again, and not a scrap was ever found of Hárek. Earl Gilla in the Suðureyjar dreamed that a man came to him and said his name was Herfinn, and told him he had come from Ireland. The earl thought he asked him for news from there, and then he sang this song:

"I have been where warriors wrestled,

High in Ireland sang the sword,

Boss to boss met many bucklers,

Steel rung sharp on rattling helm;

I can tell of all their struggle

Sigurð fell in flight of spears;

Brian fell, but saved his kingdom

Before he lost one drop of blood."

Those two, Flosi and the earl, talked much of this dream. A week after, Hrafn hinn rauði came there, and told them all the news of Brian's battle, the fall of the king, and of Earl Sigurð, and Bróðir, and all the Vikings. "What," said Flosi, "have you to tell me of my men? "They all fell there," says Hrafn, "but your brother-in-law Þorsteinn took peace from Terþialfad, and is now with him." Flosi told the earl that he would now go away, "For we have our pilgrimage south to fulfil." The earl let him go as he wished, and gave him a ship and anything else that he needed, and much silver. Then they sailed to Bretlands, and stayed there a while.


From the Orkneyinga saga

11. Hlodver Thorfinn’s son took the earldom after Ljot, and was a great chief; he had as a wife Edna, daughter of Kjarval, the Irish king; their son was Sigurðr the stout. Hlodver died of sickness, and is buried under a “how” at Hofn in Caithness. Sigurðr, his son, took the earldom after him; he was a great chief and several territories. He held by main force Caithness against the Scots, and had an army out every summer. He raided in the Southern Isles, in Scotland and Ireland. It chanced one summer that Finnleik, the Scotish earl, staked in a battle-field for Sigurðr on Skittern by a day named, but Sigurðr went to ask his mother’s advice, as she was a sorceress. The earl told her that the odds were against him at about seven men to one. She answers: “'I'd have reared you in my wool-basket had I known you want to live forever; but life is governed by fate not by where you are; it is better to die with honour than to live with shame. Take this banner which I have made for you with all my skill and I forsee it will bring victory to those before whom it is borne, but speedy death to him who bears it.” It was a finely made banner, very cleverly embroidered with the figure of a raven, and when the banner caught the breeze, the raven seemed to be flying ahead. Earl Sigurðr lost his temper at his mother's words. He got the support of the Orkney farmers by giving them back their land-rights, then set out for Skittern to confront Earl Finnleik. The two sides formed up, but the moment they clashed Sigurðr's standard-bearer was struck dead. The Earl told another man to pick up the banner but before long he'd been killed too. The Earl lost three standard bearers, but he won the battle and the farmers of Orkney got back their land rights.

13. A little while after the agreement between king Olaf and earl Sigurðr Hlodverson, the earl took to wife the daughter of Malcolm, the Scot-king, and their son was earl Þorfinn. Earl Sigurðr had three other sons, one was called Brusi, the second Summerled, the third Einar wry-mouth. Five winters after the battle at Svolder, earl Sigurðr traveled to Ireland, to help king Sigtrygg silk-beard, but he set up his elder sons over the lands, but his son Þorfin, he gave over into the hands of the Scottish king, his maternal grandfather, to foster. But when earl Sigurðr came to Ireland, he and king Sigtrygg marched with that host to meet Brian, the Irish king, and their meeting was on Good Friday. Then it fell out that there was no one left to bear the raven banner, and the earl bore it himself, and fell there, but king Sigtrygg fled. King Brian fell with victory and glory.

From Þorsteins saga Síðu-Hallssonar

This winter earl Sigurd summoned him to Ireland. And then he fought with king Brian, and that battle has been the most famous across the western sea, both for the host of men (who fought) and the remarkable events that happened there. And when the earl summoned him from home he asked Þorstein whether he would travel too. Þorstein said that nothing else suited him than to travel and follow him in danger, "when we think it good to lead a quiet life of ease with you in peace." The earl thanked him for his words. After that they traveled to Ireland and fought with king Brian, and there many remarkable events happened at the same time as is said in his Saga. There fell three banner-bearers of earl Sigurd; and then the earl asked Þorstein to carry the banner. Then Þorstein said, "Carry your own crow yourself, earl." Then a man (1) spoke and said: "You do right, Þorstein, for from it I have lost three of my sons." The earl took the banner from the staff and hid it in his clothing and then fought on most daringly. And a little after men heard it said up aloft: "If earl Sigurd will have victory, then let him make for Dumaz-hill(2) with his men." That (3) .................... ever followed the earl, and so it was then. There fell the earl in that onslaught, and many people with him, and then Brodir slew king Brian; but Ospak his brother took him and tore out his entrails, and led him round and round the trunk of a tree, and so he died. Then great events occured afterwards in loss of life. Þorstein and some few of them together took their stand by the woodside. Then a man said, "Why don't you retreat, Þorstein?" He answers, "Because I cannot reach home this evening, even if I do run." Peace was given to Þorstein. And he traveled back to the Orkneys and from there to Norway .................. But when he had been three winters abroad and had grown very famous then he traveled there (Iceland). Þorstein was twenty when he was in Brian's battle.

Brjáns saga links:

Hudson’s `Brjans saga''.(historicity of Icelandic sagas discussed)

History Ireland article on Clontarf

Discussion on sagas at Northvegr

Ó Corráin’s Viking Ireland – Afterthoughts (1998)

Kennedy’s The Íslendingasögur and Ireland

Wikipedia article

Viking Ireland links:


Dublin Museum

The Viking Age in Ireland

Margaret Gowan and Company

The Sea Stallion weblinks: